The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
On Hawthorne’s career choice…in his own words “I do not want to be a doctor and live by men’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So, I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.”
Writing didn’t provide financial security for his family, so he took a job as a surveyor for the port of Salem. • Lost this position when the Whigs won in 1848 election • This job loss gave him the time to write The Scarlet Letter (1850)
Became acquainted with Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson (transcendentalists) • They influenced his thinking about the importance of intuition rather than intellect in uncovering the truths of nature and human beings.
Hawthorne disagreed with them though… • If left to their own devices, humans would not act “good” as transcend. thought • Humans are flawed and primal urges would prevail
Evidence of this… • The Civil War • Slavery • Hawthorne had grown up with some Puritan influences…grandfather actually participated in Salem Witch Trials (Hathorne)…he was a judge • Added the “w” to dissociate from relatives
Works part of Romantic Movement • Themes are inherent evil and sin of humanity
The Scarlet Letter • Can be considered a “love story” • Themes about the subjects of Puritans, sin, guilt, and the human conflict between emotions and intellect • Allegorical
Allegory • A story where characters, objects, and events have a hidden meaning and are used to present some universal lesson
“The Custom House” • Outlines biographical info. about the author ~worked at a Custom House b/c needed job security ~this job stifles his creativity and imagination ~provides discussion of his ancestors calling them “grave…bitter persecutors” whose “better deeds will be diminished by their bad ones.”
Defines the romance novel, particularly the psychological romance novel ~Psychological romance---techniques of romance (use of light and setting), but add deep, probing portraits of human beings in conflict with themselves
Authenticates the basis of the novel by explaining the discovery of a scarlet A in parchment paper in the Custom House ~Gives the story an air of historical truth ~no real evidence this is true.
Highlights conflicting values/ideology of past and present ~Puritanism consumed by commercialism and financial interests of 1700s ~ “the Old General” contrasted sharply to the new workers in the Custom House